GROTON -- As the time draws near for schoolhouse doors to open for the 2013 academic year, the Groton-Dunstable Regional School District is prepared to welcome a new leader in the superintendent's office.
In fact, having chosen a replacement for departed superintendent Joseph Mastrocola last spring, the School Committee has hired career educator Anthony Bent to fill the position on a temporary basis until a permanent superintendent can be found.
Bent began work on July 1 and wasted no time getting up to speed on a district that his predecessor left as a well-oiled machine.
"There's been no responsibility and yet there's been all the responsibility," said Bent of the twilight time between Mastrocola's departure and the start of the school year. "I had been in the district a few days doing transitions and meeting people and having conversations with folks, so by the time I started work, I had had between 15 and 20 conversations with staff, members of the School Committee, and people outside the system. Those conversations gave me a good grounding."
Bent was also aided by Mastrocola himself, who was available for consultation.
"Mr. Mastrocola met with me a couple of times," said Bent. "He was very forthcoming and helpful and always available for a phone call. There's a wonderful blessing in assuming the job of superintendent in July because all the heavy lifting won't really be needed until school is open again.
"It hasn't been the most
In a way, the interim superintendent was helped in the transition by a School Committee that chose not to tie him down with overly detailed sets of instructions.
"I've not been given any specific instructions from the School Committee because the School Committee is very focused on stabilizing the environment and carrying on other critical functions," explained Bent. "It can be very destabilizing when a superintendent leaves late in the spring time. It doesn't leave enough time to do a full search for his replacement. So the committee's focus is going to be on finding somebody with experience as a superintendent who could fit in quickly and get critical functions going and assist with the search for a new superintendent who can serve on a permanent basis.
"Fortunately, Mr. Mastrocola had stabilized the fiscal environment very nicely and I think that was the committee's primary concern," continued Bent. "At the same time, I've met with several members of the committee and had conversations about goals for the coming year. More recently, we spoke about how Groton-Dunstable must deal with the Race to the Top program that we signed on to last year, which requires us to implement a new teaching evaluation instrument this year. We'll be focusing like a laser beam on that new teaching evaluation system, which is a fairly substantial undertaking. We will also be doing some adjustments to the curriculum so that they align with the state's Common Core initiative. Those two projects will dominate the landscape for much of the year, and I am very fortunate that the School Committee has given every indication to lead that effort with the new director of teaching, learning and accountability."
But for Bent, it is all "been there, done that."
"It's interesting because I'm dealing with issues around residency, transition and organizing," noted Bent. "This is the 18th time that I've served in a superintendent capacity, so I haven't yet seen any new issues that I haven't dealt with before. Every assignment presents its own challenges, but in a general way there's nothing really new."
Before arriving at Groton-Dunstable, Bent worked as an education consultant for the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents facilitating in superintendent searches and school governance workshops.
In addition to spending 15 years as superintendent for the town of Shrewsbury, Bent has also served in the capacity of interim superintendent in Leominster and Topsfield.
Bent began his career in the classroom, spending eight years there before moving on to administration, where at various times he held the positions of coordinator of foreign languages, director of personnel and professional development, and director of curriculum and instruction.
"I'll be in an information-seeking mode first," said Bent of getting started. "I need to do that for as long as I can, so that means talking to people and looking at documents and asking a lot of questions about why things are the way they are. We already put into place the additional goal structure for the education-evaluation instrument and Common Core state standards. Needless to say, I will want to support the School Committee relative to its search for a permanent replacement for Mr. Mastrocola."
In his interview with the School Committee during the search for an interim superintendent, Bent listed "listening and developing good relationships with the members of his staff and empowering them and fostering a collaborative leadership style" as one of his strengths. It is something he fully intends to follow up at Groton-Dunstable.
"That's the only way I know how to lead a district," said Bent. "Through strong interpersonal connections forming a collaborative leadership style. I've already had multiple meetings with school principals and have formed certain administrative structures. We've had regular meetings with the central office administration and in October will begin with another leadership group called the district leadership team, which will meet four or five times a year. The team will have over 30 people, including all the principals, program advisers, team chairs, central office staff, network manager, facilities manager and the food service manager. I don't believe that successful leadership can be properly focused while working in isolation. So I will be visiting schools with principals a lot and visiting classrooms with them as well. I'm going to try and be in the field as much as possible during the course of the year."
And Bent will need all the help he can get as he tackles perhaps the most complicated requirement of his job.
"The budget is integrated with everything else because as I learn about the programs and shape the programs we might have next year, that will determine what the budget environment will be," said Bent of managing the district's finances. "I'll work with the School Committee obviously. They have three major areas of responsibility: one is policy, the other is support and hiring, and sometimes firing, of a superintendent, and the third piece is the budget. We in the central office will interact with the School Committee quite a bit when formulating the budget and present our initial thinking to them for reaction. We'll listen to the committee's directives and decisions. I've already met with Groton's town manager, Mark Haddad, and certainly hope to work closely with he and other town officials as the budgeting process unfolds."
But as the school year begins in earnest and the search for his permanent replacement begins, Bent wished to assure the residents of Groton and Dunstable that his enthusiasm for the job, however temporary the positiont might be, will not flag.
"I've had a wonderful career in education and bring the same level of passion and commitment to Groton-Dunstable that I did when I was a young foreign language teacher at Wellesley High School in the 1960s," said Bent.